Ive been thinking about recent attempts to produce and bring to the market refurbished aircraft, especially of types no longer in production, like the Cessna 150/152. These are worthy efforts, and can be a good option when the economics work out. Theres a lot of life left in Cessnas 150/152 series, and modernizing them for the flying club market can make sense under the right circumstances.
Another argument in favor of putting refurbished airframes on the flight training line is the people with time and money to spend learning to fly expect to do it in clean, modern equipment. If they arrive at the flight school in a $50,000 SUV, theyre accustomed to certain comforts in their personal transportation. Many modern, new piston singles meet their expectations. Few of them, however, are trainers.
The prospective students expectations go beyond creature comforts like cup holders, leather and comfortable seats, however. They also expect navigation and display capabilities on par with the smartphone in their pocket, or the information system in that SUV. In short, they dont mind expending the mental bandwidth required to learn to fly, and they can afford it, but too often the available training equipment doesnt meet their creature-comfort and technology expectations.
Next year will mark 30 years since Cessnas 152 went out of production, which means most of that fleet is even older. Older, in fact, than the new students the industry needs to attract to regain its footing. After considering the steam gauges and lack of moving map in the instrument panel, along with the cracked plastic and uncomfortable seats of the typical trainer, it can be another tough sell to the guy or gal who arrived in that three-year-old SUV that the airplane theyre flying is older than they are, no matter how fresh the paint.
One of the creature comforts many people-prospective students and passengers alike-expect to find is air conditioning. And unless theyre lucky enough to be flying one of the relative handful of piston singles on which its installed-none of them two-seat trainers-theyll be disappointed again. Like the padded instrument panels, high-tech displays and quiet comfort of the modern automobile, theyve come to naturally expect similar or better technology wherever they go, especially in an airplane, one costing at least as much as their SUV.
No, air conditioning alone wont make or break the industrys latest attempts to attract those with the appropriate level of disposable income. There are many obstacles to revitalizing GA, relatively high fuel prices and an unhealthy economy perhaps being the most insurmountable. But if there is untapped potential out there, a refurbished 40-year-old strut-braced single likely isnt going to be what speeds up the pulse and opens up the wallet.